Friday, January 13, 2023

US air travel is back to normal following a technical issue

US air travel returns to normal after technology breakdown

 Thursday, a day after a computer system that relays safety information to pilots malfunctioned, halting flights from coast to coast, US air travel mostly resumed.

On Wednesday, more than 1,300 flights were canceled and 11,000 were delayed, but by late morning on the East Coast, only about 100 flights had been canceled and 1,000 had been delayed.

The safety-alert system outage appeared to have been caused by a damaged database file, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. To avoid another major failure, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised a thorough investigation.

According to Buttigieg, who made the statement to CNN, "now we have to understand how this could have happened in the first place," "why the usual redundancies that would have stopped it from being that disruptive did not stop it from being disruptive this time," and "what the original source of the errors or the corrupted files would have been."

“But we’re also not going to rule that out until we have a clearer and better understanding of what’s taking place,” he stated, adding that there was no evidence that the outage was the result of a cyberattack.

The massive disruption was the latest embarrassment for the FAA, which has blamed airlines for causing passengers more inconvenience. The agency needs to upgrade its technology, according to critics, including leaders in the airline and tourism industries.

Geoff Freeman, president of the trade group US Travel Association, stated that the FAA outage, which began on Tuesday night, "is a clear sign that America's transportation network desperately needs significant upgrades."

Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, has criticized the FAA on a number of issues, including the hiring of air traffic controllers. He stated in the fall that the agency makes "a heroic effort" and performs well the majority of the time, but that during peak travel times it can become overwhelmed.

The outage "raises questions about the current state of the technology infrastructure at the FAA," according to Washington state Representative Rick Larsen, the top Democrat on a House aviation subcommittee. He stated to CNN that Congress would consider whether the agency requires additional funding for modernization.

The FAA and Buttigieg were both hit hard by the outage.

After receiving widespread criticism for the manner in which it approved the Boeing 737 Max without fully comprehending a flight-control system that malfunctioned and was a key factor in two crashes that resulted in the deaths of 346 people, the FAA is working to restore its reputation. When considering and eventually improving Boeing's modifications to get the plane back in the air, the agency took a more hands-on approach.

Buttigieg's moral authority to chastise airlines for canceling or delaying flights may also be undermined by the meltdown at an agency that is under the Department of Transportation's control. Since last summer, he has taken aim at airlines, most recently at Southwest Airlines, which canceled nearly 17,000 flights in the final ten days of December.

The breakdown on Wednesday demonstrated how much American air travel is dependent on the computer system that generates NOTAMs, or Notice to Air Missions, which are alerts.

Pilots and airline dispatchers must read the notices before a plane takes off, which contain information about bad weather, runway closures, and other temporary factors that could affect the flight. Before moving online, the system was based on phone calls.

It wasn't fixed until midday on Wednesday after it broke down late Tuesday. The FAA took the unusual step of temporarily preventing any aircraft from taking off.

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